By Peter Halstead

Midges drift above the park
Like the rental boats
Skimming on the summer dark
As the liquid evening floats,

Insects settling on the foam
Of the café’s humid beer,
Beneath the rippling dome
Of the sunset’s chandelier,

Pasted crudely on the bronze
Where even air is dipped,
Glued and lacquered on the ponds
Through which the sky is dripped,

The city filtered through its seines
Of waves that shimmer in the heat,
Wet gauze which strains
Evening’s simmering concrete.

Here a clumsy amateur
Has made a quick collage,
And cut into a pasted blur
The park’s pastel barrage,

Where a razor’s careless blade
Sets tables cropped by lake
On the out-of-focus shade
(A photographer’s mistake),

Topiary scissored from an ad
In the lantern’s Magritte glimmer,
Cutout holly clipped and sad,
Fading cypress even dimmer:

A découpage for dummies,
The French edition of the spring,
A softer version of the breeze
That back-home summers bring,

Another version of our youth
On its dusty urban beach,
The shallow prepubescent truth
For which old masters reach,

Just as much a patched-up page—
The memories we wish we had
From that distant age
Where history was just a fad,

A montage of random sands
Sunscreened by an ideal past,
A layout made of crops and scans
That come out colorfast,

Where the pigments never run,
The clouds are picture-perfect shots,
The oceans are well done,
And the flowerbeds have plots,

Unlike these sultry forgeries
Where not even smell is real,
Overlaid with the shrubbery’s
Vaguely foreign feel—
And yet people summer too
In the beech-lined Tuileries,
Whose rustling copses ring as true
As any California trees—

In any case now long since gone
From the axe or from disease:
Just as our lamented lawn
No longer hums with bees.

In fact, ancient bees are here,
In convincingly nostalgic flocks,
Old-fashioned but sincere,
A buzzing vernal equinox

Around the stippled yews
Whose dangling grey ramparts
Screen a pixelated wood whose
Art lies in concealing all its arts,

Their undulating tapestries
Touched by fire nonetheless,
Crowns flapping in the breeze
With summer’s sweltering excess

Like the flying flags in a Dufy,
The incandescent metaphors
Of a languid pinstriped sea
Swept with candied semaphores.

Paris works, half a world away,
Because a painter pointilized the day,
Because Minnelli filmed the trees
And Delerue composed the breeze,

The translations into fluent French
Of our dogwoods, elms, and oaks,
Where a larch becomes a city bench
And an ash becomes a hoax,

Such reveries bare equivalents of
A hometown beach, a summer love,
Telling us to exactly whom
We owe this brooding sense of doom,

Because, despite felicities of paint,
Something deeper seems to taint
These reminiscent afternoons,
Gardens overgrowing ruins,

Looking for forget-me-nots
In a messy drawer of shots,
Solarized from memories,
Making up the past from trees

That bend around the sky just right,
That emulate the high school night,
Or duplicate the air when we
Unearthed our immortality,

Now reduced to second-hand
Simulations in a foolish land—
How awful that we might
Derive our souvenirs from simple sight,

From these fraudulent tableaux,
Real enough to a Corot:
But that languid brackish blue,
And its limpid Lorrain residue,

Doesn’t work with car exhaust,
The atom bomb, the holocaust,
Or with Seurat bureaucrats
Wearing all their worn straw hats,

An ancient, bitter, aging race
Scared to look a mirror in the face,
A nation in analysis
Among the Poussins and the palaces,

As if French wine could decant
Our hometown's seaweed smell,
Or these gardens could supplant
Our beach's sand and shells

So why is summer still so strange,
Like a cut-out on a page,
A wrenching barometric change
From a palm tree’s native gauge?

Because the scene is incomplete,
Without its buckets and its pails
As a substitute for heat
When transformation fails

And beaches mutate into hedges,
Children scuffing two-tone shoes
Chasing the receding edges
Of their running shadow’s hues,

Displacing dunes with topiary,
Blinding sea with city stone,
The statuesque with statuary,
Ions with cologne,

A swirl of wind for the weave
In a palm tree’s drunken sway,
For years we never leave,
For where our childhoods stay,

Where the topaz sky is filled
With planes that fly by rubber band,
And all our hopes are spilled
In a shovelful of sand,

By afternoons of ocean mist
Which no city can erase,
By dragon coaster rides I missed
And which now nothing can replace—

Not shaded lanes that linden trees
Summon up when they set,
Dry and windswept arteries
Where loveless lips are wet,

Or the tideless gravel calm
Where the highway sails in front
Of a transplanted waving palm,
Pasting headlights on a punt,

Torches bleeding through a lamp
So past and present dimly meet
In the night air’s growing damp,
Like breakers on a rolling street?

My worlds are stained and mounted
In the orange dye of time,
As if what really counted
Wasn’t meaning, but the rhyme:

Past and future, all I know
Is that neither one is present
In the current indigo
Around the French moon’s crescent;

All things turn to memory,
And this blue will look as real
As seas seemed summery—
Assuming that we really feel

Anything as vital as a look,
That time would stamp its searing face
As easily as it later took
Away our adolescent grace—

But still the antique sunset clamps
Its drifting liquid light
Around the science-fiction lamps
Burning through our fading sight,

The way that films of sunspots teem
When we close our eyes and stare
Closely at the sudden dream
Of phantoms in the air,

Where the neurons’ frenzied neon draws
The eyes’ subconscious scene
In wild distorted throbbing claws
With lightning in between,

The world transfigured with a wink,
The way that artists cut and glue
Scraps into a missing link
So the exposé seems true,

As paper layers juxtapose
People in the dancing heat,
In the distance nose to nose
Although up close they never meet—

And yet, like photos overlapped,
The borders are too rough;
The edges aren’t exactly apt:
They’re close, but never close enough,
The way that shadows run from feet
Born from shapes now far away:
The simple patterns don’t repeat
Simply like a summer day,

But like an object and its shade,
So our colors likewise need
To copy those already made;
To xerox that initial seed

Which we think we sow
When we brush and touch,
Frozen for all time although
What follows matters just as much—

So love’s reduced to just one name,
An act that’s hard to follow,
Whose repetitions are the same—
Words increasingly grown hollow:

And sitting in a Paris park,
We start again from scratch,
Like schoolboys in the perfect dark,
Looking for a timeless match

Between our past and present loves,
Between our pop-up childhood lives
And indifferent cooing doves;
Between the careless moonlit drives

And these geometric walks
Of endless phosphorescent white,
Where empty foreign summer stalks
The powdered lamplit streets of night,

Where a strange new fire burns
To solve the story of sun,
As the heart spindles and turns
Around films we can only rerun.